Congenital heart disease includes any type of heart defect or malfunctioning heart problem that is present at birth. These diseases arise during fetal development, and may be due to a wide variety of causes. There are many different forms of congenital heart disease which may vary greatly in severity, condition management, and treatment options.
Although it is not known for certain what causes congenital heart disease, certain issues are believed to contribute to the likelihood of a heart condition developing in a fetus. Some medical experts believe that some conditions may develop as a result of a viral infection during the pregnancy. Genetic factors may also be a source of congenital disease, although this concept is still not completely confirmed. Many medical experts also believe that smoking, drinking, and drug abuse can inhibit fetal development in a variety of ways and may be a contributing factor to congenital heart disease.
There are many types of congenital heart disease, most of which involve defects in the structure of the muscles, valves, and atrial walls of the heart. These defects can lead to a variety of heart problems; for instance, weak or malformed atrial walls can allow blood from both sides of the heart to mix improperly. Valve problems typically cause too much or too little blood to circulate through the heart; valves can also be improperly or insecurely connected to the heart.
Congenital heart conditions are often discovered during fetal development or shortly after birth. Common signs of a heart problem in babies include a blue tint to the skin, weight loss or insufficient weight gain, and breathing problems. Most experts recommend contacting a doctor immediately if these symptoms are found in an infant, as time can be a major factor in successfully diagnosing and treating a congenital heart disease in a baby. Depending on the diagnosed condition, treatment may include careful monitoring, drug therapy, operations to properly connect heart valves, or a heart transplant.
Some forms of congenital heart disease may not manifest until adulthood, when they are often detected as part of routine chest exams or physicals. An abnormal heartbeat, easy exhaustion during exercise, and frequent lung infections or shortness of breath can indicate a possible congenital heart condition. If such a problem is suspected, a doctor may order a variety of tests to confirm and specify the condition, including X-rays or electrocardiograms.
Although some congenital heart disease may be relatively mild, care still must be taken if a defect is detected. Even patients with mild conditions typically undergo regular tests and may take special precautions to avoid the possibility of infection that could aggravate the condition. For more serious situations, medication and surgery may be options to consider with a doctor's advice.